The purpose of this policy is to lay out professional standards concerning the collection, care, and use of human remains held as part of the Service’s collection. The vast majority of these human remains are part of the archaeology collection, particularly a small collection of ancient Egyptian mummies. These are used for interpretative display and academic research.
The policy draws heavily upon policies prepared by other institutions (particularly those of the British Museum and the Manchester Museum) and upon the following major guidance documents:
- The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) 2005 publication “Guidance for the care of Human remains in Museums”
- The Human Tissue Act of 2004
- The revised (2004) ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
- The Museums Association’s Code of Ethics.
Definition of Human Remains
For the purposes of this policy, ‘human’ refers solely to the species Homo-Sapiens.
- Osteological material (i.e. skeletal, in whole or part)
- Soft tissue (organs, skin, etc., wet or dry preparations)
- Slide preparations of the above
- Artefacts made wholly or largely from the above
- Fossils and sub fossils
- Hair and nails. N.B. Although not directly included in some guidelines (because it is not possible to reproduce DNA from such material), the Bolton Museum & Archive policy includes hair and nails because of their sacred status amongst some cultures.
Associated objects, sacred artefacts or grave goods do not come under the terms of this policy. However, if there are concerns about associated objects, an effort will be made to undertake appropriate consultation and to react to any findings in a culturally sensitive manner.
The Collections Management Team
The Collections Management Team is made up of curatorial, conservation, archive and documentation staff and their managers. This team is responsible for applying the Human Remains policy within Bolton Library & Museum Services. The team is also responsible for keeping up to date with national developments in the care of human remains and amending this policy if necessary.
In addition, for matters of particular controversy or where further expert guidance is required, the Team will refer for guidance from the Human Remains Panel of the Manchester Museum.
Consent and Respect
Under the Human Tissue Act 2004, consent to use human tissue for regulated activities is only required by (English) law with regard to human remains of individuals who have died within the last 100 years. As Bolton Library & Museum Services have resolved not to hold remains of less than 100 years old (and will not collect any), it is under no legal obligation to seek consent from any outside group or individual (including the Human Tissue Authority) concerning the use of the collection.
All human remains in the care of Bolton Library & Museum Services will be treated with the same high level of care and respect, irrespective of their age or origin. If required, special arrangements will be made to ensure that their storage, care and display are culturally acceptable and respectful of the interests of originating communities.
If there is any concern over the ethical treatment of a set of remains, the Collections Management Team will consult widely.
Should any culturally sensitive human remains be identified within the Bolton Museum collections, the Collections Management Team will contact the appropriate cultural representatives and inform them of the presence of the remains and seek their advice.
Bolton Library & Museum Services completed the documentation of human remains in our care in 2010 and a full list will be made publicly available via our website by March 2015. Until this time, requests to see full object records relating to human remains should be submitted in writing to the Collections Management Team.
Research, Learning & Teaching:
All applications for research will be dealt with by the Collections Management Team, in consultation with any relevant parties and acting within the boundaries set by Bolton Library & Museum Services Research Policy.
Bolton Library & Museum Services reserve the right to decline any application for use of human remains for research, teaching and learning. The organisation also holds the right to halt any ongoing research should the conditions of this policy be breached. In both cases, a full written explanation of the reasons will be provided.
Please refer to Bolton Library & Museum Services’ Research Policy for more detail.
Bolton Library & Museum Services do not seek to collect human remains and will not acquire any remains which are less than 100 years old. Material aged more than 100 years will only be acquired in exceptional circumstances and in full and open consultation with appropriate communities.
Please refer to Bolton Library & Museum Services Development Policy for more detail.
Loans in and out of the museum of human remains for display or research purposes are permitted. This is subject to the approval of the Collections Management Team, based upon consideration of legal, ethical and practical issues.
Exhibition & Display
Bolton Library & Museum Services may display, or put on loan, human remains from the permanent collection.
All such displays will always be designed so that the remains are accompanied by an explanatory interpretation that places them in an historic context. Display of human remains for aesthetic or artistic purposes alone will not be permitted.
Research will be carried out to ensure that the display of each set of human remains is shown in a culturally sensitive manner.
Where human remains are displayed in the museum, there will be a notice outside the relevant display space alerting visitors to the presence of human remains.
Human remains will only be referred to by a proper name where the proper name of an individual is known. More usually, the name of a cultural or historical group or archaeological site is to be used. For example, Lindow Man.
The above will be enforced by the Senior Management Team of Bolton Library & Museum Services.
Photographs and casts of modern human remains must be accompanied by documents proving that the appropriate consent has been obtained and that the ethical treatment of the human remains took place during their use.
All human remains will be stored to a conservation-approved standard within the Museum store.
Conservation & Labelling
No interventive conservation procedures shall be applied to human remains other than dry brushing and vacuuming to remove dust. Preventive conservation including environmental monitoring and control and freezing, in case of pest attack, can be applied.
Labelling of human remains will follow DCMS guidelines. Each set of human remains will be individually boxed and the boxes will be marked with the accession numbers and a brief description. Where necessary, tie on labels shall be attached to the human remains themselves. With regard to skeletal remains, in order to minimise the risk of loss or dissociation, identifying numbers can be marked on the bones in waterproof ink.
Repatriation, Reburial & De-accession
Claims for repatriation, reburial and de-accession will be determined on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Collections Management Team, based upon proper consideration of all relevant legal and ethical issues.
All requests for de-accessioning, repatriation and reburial must be submitted in writing to the Head of Bolton Museum and Archive Service. Final approval for transfer from the Service’s possession is subject to confirmation by the Executive Committee of Bolton Council.
In principle, the same criteria applied to the exhibition and display of human remains will also be applied when using images of human remains.
Requests for images of human remains held by Bolton Museum & Archive Service may be requested in writing from the Museum and will be subject to approval by the Collections Management Team. Any images of human remains used in Museum publications, including the internet, will also be subject to approval by the team.
All requests for use of images of human remains, including photography or filming within the Museum, should be made using a Filming and Photography Request Form and submitted to the Collections Management Team for approval.
Any complaints relating to the care of human remains under Bolton Museums' jurisdiction must be sent in writing to:
Head of Bolton Museum & Archive Service
Bolton Museum, Archive & Aquarium
Le Mans Crescent
Bolton BL1 1SE